If you are a follower of Jesus, it can be encouraging to read Matthew 25:31-40. We can picture ourselves welcomed into Jesus’ kingdom, having served others in His name and, by doing so, having served Him. However, Jesus’ teaching doesn’t stop there. If we’re willing to believe in the God who revealed Himself through the Bible, we must consider all that He is and all that He says, not just the parts that we like (nor only what we consider to be convenient, or just what happens to agree with what we already think!)
Let’s look at the next few verses:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Matthew 25:41-43 NIV
After the passage above, those on the other side ask similar questions to the first group. I imagine them saying, “Come on, I wasn’t even alive at the same time that Jesus walked this earth! How could I have helped you out?”
The answer is similar to those who had served others: Just as helping out another brother or sister counts as serving Jesus, not aiding a neighbor (or a brother or sister) in need – “one of the least of these” – when given the opportunity can be the same as not serving Jesus.
Side note: Observe that the punishment here was not prepared for people who separated themselves from God through sin (and didn’t accept His offer to return). It wasn’t prepared for human beings at all. However, I suppose that, since God is the source of good, if someone chooses to separate themselves from God, there aren’t any good places away from God.
Now, we could disagree on whether or not a Christian would willfully ignore or avoid these opportunities (or maybe it’s not a disagreement: I know that I’ve been guilty of these things, so maybe it’s an issue for other Christians, too). Let’s set aside questions about salvation for a moment, though, and consider someone who follows Jesus but yet doesn’t practice these things: What qualities are lacking in a Christian who sees a fellow human being in need (especially another member of the family of God), has the means to help, and does nothing? Maybe you would say that they are missing compassion, empathy, love, or even Christlikeness. Perhaps you would cite their ignorance of God’s expectations or a lack of Christian maturity.
This topic could get complicated in a hurry, but here are my thoughts: I’m not saying that we are responsible for every need in this world, but – like the Good Samaritan – when we see a clear need, have the means to help, and have direction from God to help, it’s hard to reconcile having Jesus as our Lord and not doing what He commanded us to.
So, let me ask some questions again from an earlier article in this series, with a slightly different twist:
- How much money would you give to the church if it was going directly to others in need?
- How many ministries would you volunteer for if you got to serve people with needs?
- How little would other things matter in our lives if those whom Jesus wants us to serve were right there with us?
- How quickly would you get up and help someone if Jesus asked you to?
Before we drift off into a discussion on Calvinism versus Arminianism, let me point out that other passages in the Bible remind us that we don’t get right with God by merely “doing good things”. However, the Bible is clear that the results of giving our lives over to God include good works (see Colossians 1:9-14). Service to others is something that saved people should be doing as a result of their acceptance of Jesus as their Lord and their Savior.
In fact, Jesus told us that we could recognize false prophets by their fruit (see Matthew 7:15-20), and similarly, I would expect actual followers of Jesus to demonstrate an observable effect on their lives from making this decision. If someone were to ask you, “What difference does your faith make in your life?”, could you cite specific actions that are impacted, or only what is in your heart or mind? Hopefully, all parts of your life are impacted by your beliefs. Otherwise, one might be tempted to wonder whether or not you – or I – really believe them.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for December 18, 2022
- The Lookout, December 18, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Matthew, by Larry Chouinard, pages 443-447. © 1997 College Press Publishing Co.